Dawgbytes - 9/21

From hearing both Charlie Weis and Tyrone Willingham speak so far this week, it's clear that the two head coaches are doing their utmost to downplay the media circus that's surrounding Saturday's ND-Washington matchup. Yet the questions persist; how will Notre Dame's players react to seeing Willingham? How will Washington's players react to 'trying to win one for their coach'? Will this game act as a de-facto referendum on Notre Dame's decision to fire Willingham and hire Weis?

Tough questions, and Willingham insists they aren't getting to him.

"Yes and No," Willingham said Wednesday in his own inimitable way, when asked if he would be happy when this week is over and he wouldn't have to answer any more questions about Notre Dame. "Yes, because hopefully the focus will return to our football team and what we're doing. But no, because the questions haven't really impacted Tyrone Willingham. I'm only interested in winning the game. That's it. That's the only thing that concerns me. All the other stuff doesn't matter."

The Washington Huskies found out full well just how tough it is to win at Notre Dame last year, getting drilled 38-3. Not only were the Huskies banged up and generally out of sorts, but they also had to deal with the Fighting Irish's 12th Man - the lore, the mystique and the tradition that is Notre Dame football. If there is someone out there qualified to talk about Touchdown Jesus and the pressures inherent in following coaches with last names like Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian and Holtz, it's a former Irish head coach - something Willingham now has on his resume.

"When you take that job, you understand that it is a place that has had some of the most prestigious coaches in the country and some of the greatest accomplishments in football," he said when asked about Notre Dame. But he's also quick to note that Saturday's game is not in South Bend.

Right now, the betting line on this game is basically at two touchdowns. When there is a perceived difference in talent - like there apparently is in Las Vegas - can emotion be the key ingredient when trying to concoct a winning recipe? "The emotion is more for those on the outside," said Willingham. "The game itself gets those on the inside excited. Those on the outside help with the hype. We try not to buy into the hype, but we like the excitement."

That being said, Willingham also admits that emotion can be a valuable tool, as long as it's used properly. "You have to sustain the emotions," he said. "A lot of times you see when those emotions are spiked in that manner, they last for the first quarter or second quarter and then the team runs out of energy. So you have be very careful about how you spike emotions."

He also admitted that he's waiting for something to drop in the various reports coming out of both Seattle and South Bend - something that he may be able to incorporate into his pre-game address. What that might be is anybody's guess, even Willingham. "Every game brings a set of circumstances that you try to use to your advantage," he said. "There's something that will probably be said or happen between now and Saturday that will work it's way into my conversation with our team. I have no idea what it will be. But I will be vigilant, I'll be looking for it, and if I think it's appropriate I'll factor that into all the other things we've given them this week."

Don't expect much from his former players, who are reading 'brief comments' about Willingham and leaving it at that. It's part of Weis' strategy to minimize the emotional impact this game might have on their focus. Willingham, for his part, is trying to take the focus off himself as much as possible. If the Huskies want to win this game for him, they'll have to do it without his direction to do so.

"I don't sense that and I won't instruct them in that vain," he said when asked if he feels the team wants to win the game for him. "That's an emotional approach to things and you have to have emotions I don't want our team to have spiked emotions. I want our emotions to be up there, off the charts, for all our ballgames. I want them to be excited because it's special in and of itself. Naturally games of this nature will come with more hype, so it's natural to have an ounce more emotion about it, but it shouldn't be about Tyrone Willingham. It should be about the love of the game.

"I'm not the factor. The game is the factor."

Now Willingham has had three full days of work in with his team, and he said that the intensity that was there before the Idaho game hasn't shown up as much as he would have liked. "There was flashes," said Willingham. "I thought we had a workman-like practice. "I can tell you after yesterday's practice they didn't buy into the hype. We may want to give them a little bit more of the hype."

Injury and Player Report: There were a few players Willingham mentioned Wednesday. Cornerback Roy Lewis 'moved around just a little, so we hope that means continued improvement for him', said Willingham. Because of that, it's conceivable Durrell Moss could see more time. The converted fullback saw his first action in the secondary this past Saturday. "Durrell continues to put himself in a position to get more time," said Willingham, noting that there's nothing wrong with Clarence Simpson, it's just that Moss has been playing better. Running back Kenny James 'moved around pretty good so hopefully that bodes well for the rest of the week', added Willingham. James has been banged up ever since the beginning of fall camp and has seen sporadic action so far this season. Willingham also said that Marlon Wood could see more time at receiver and that they might still be tinkering with their front five for the offensive line. "You're always looking to find the best five, as well as finding the guys that you can plug in," he said. "I think we're pretty close."

Willingham welcomes another home-home: As Washington's future schedules are right now, the Huskies have another home and home series with Notre Dame in 2008 and 2009. "Those are great games on your schedule," said Willingham when asked if he wanted to play the Irish again down the road.

A full house?: With less than 1,000 tickets left for sale, it appears as if Washington's first sell-out under Willingham may happen in a few days. "I'm looking forward to a lot of full houses here and hopefully this one will be the first of many," he said.

Playbook-gate: Weis mentioned in his last media session that the Irish had Washington defensive coordinator Kent Baer's playbook, something that was supposedly left from Baer's time in South Bend. "I don't think that's exactly what happened, but I do think he believes that's one of his advantages," Willingham said when asked if it was true that Notre Dame had Baer's playbook.

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